a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

No more important priority

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 18th, 2008

A few days ago I gave the Democratic platform a somewhat magnanimous “gentleman’s B” regarding civil liberties and respect for the rule of law — long on rhetoric, short on some of the specifics I hoped for, but arguably pointed more or less in the right direction. I now see, via Jonathan Schwarz (“A Tiny Revolution”)*, that the foreign policy sections of the draft Democratic platform (a.k.a. “Renewing America’s Promise“) contain an old familiar whopper (emphases added):

The world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That starts with tougher sanctions and aggressive, principled, and direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions. We will pursue this strengthened diplomacy alongside our European allies, and with no illusions about the Iranian regime. We will present Iran with a clear choice: if you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime. The Iranian people and the international community must know that it is Iran, not the United States, choosing isolation over cooperation. By going the extra diplomatic mile, while keeping all options on the table, we make it more likely the rest of the world will stand with us to increase pressure on Iran, if diplomacy is failing.

This performs the neat trick of promising no illusions about Iran only to provide one in the very next sentence. The Democratic platform committee notwithstanding, the United States intelligence community published a National Intelligence Estimate just a year ago that famously — well, maybe not famously enough — concluded (emphases added):

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

It also quietly resuscitates the ugly “all options on the table” code for “we already got nukes, know what I’m saying?” If you were a Tehran leader, you’d already halted any nuclear weapons work, and you heard yourself being threatened with possible nuclear strikes (all options, remember) for something you’d already stopped doing, what would you do? A) regret stopping, B) restart on the “might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb” principle, C) find ways to credibly threaten or actually cause pain to whatever U.S. personnel or interests might be in the vicinity, D) all of the above.

Sad to say, the “abandons its nuclear weapons program” language was already a feature of the Obama “Blueprint for Change” (p. 29 of 33).** But it used to be the only mention Obama’s platform made of “table” was of coming to one or having a seat at one, not keeping “all options” on it.

The rot runs deep. The newfound belligerence is of a piece with H.Con.Res.362, a resolution demanding that the President increase pressure on Iran to abandon a nonexistent nuclear weapons program among other things by “…prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran” — i.e., a blockade. I.e., an act of war. This rash piece of legislation has been co-sponsored by 265 Representatives at latest count. The tally includes a number of major Democratic figures — Rahm Emanuel, Barney Frank, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, and Henry Waxman among them — many no doubt congratulating themselves on reaching across the aisle to nutballs like Issa, Pence, King, Hoekstra, Rohrabacher, or Westmoreland, or kind of across the aisle to Bush Dogs like Heath Shuler or Lincoln Davis.

There’s more bad news tucked in here and there among the platform’s foreign policy pages; for example, the promise of 92,000 more, not fewer troops in our standing armed forces must rank high among them (p. 28, and also no surprise to Obama watchers).

But maybe it’s more worthwhile to highlight a central, innocuous-looking conceit of Obama’s and of many Americans. From page 2 of the “Renewing America’s Promise” platform:

The Democratic Party believes that there is no more important priority than renewing American leadership on the world stage.

Really? Might it not be at least as important to have our facts straight first?

And even when we do (from time to time), might there not be problems so critical — e.g., global warming — that solving them takes priority over who gets to be at the head of the victory parade? Might there not be problems — e.g. nuclear proliferation — that all but require us to forego conventional measures of leadership, by beginning to disarm our own vast nuclear arsenal?

In truth, there may be no more important priority than redefining just what it is we mean by “leadership on the world stage.” Has our global reach in the past decades to, say, Saudi air bases, Afghan fighters, or Iranian coup d’etats helped us or hurt us? Does the 5,000th nuclear warhead make us more or less secure? Do we prefer to lead in aircraft carriers at sea, or liberties preserved at home? Do the American people gain, or does someone else, when United States policy fixates on protecting overseas oil fields and pipelines instead of education and infrastructure?

There may be much that’s good about this draft platform. But the Democratic Party is missing an opportunity to level with itself and the American people by insisting that the United States government must continue to run the world (or at least try to) on its own terms, without regard to the facts, and without regard to the American people’s desire or ability to bear any burden or pay any price our masters in Washington decree.

* Schwarz credits Don Bacon (“War is a racket”), perhaps via correspondence; I found no specific entry at the site.
** The document is printed two reduced pages per printed page; by its own pagination, the “abandons” cite is on p. 52 of 59.
UPDATE, 8/18: “desire or ability” instead of “manifest inability”

One Response to “No more important priority”

  1. » Blog Archive » That’s not change, that’s more of the same Says:

    […] on Iran last November, they’re not. As loyal readers know, this claim is unfortunately also baked right in to the Democratic platform, giving the go-ahead for Senators Evan Bayh and Jay Rockefeller to repeat it as […]

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